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(Sus4 Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/6/2002)
Rock, at its roots, is fairly simple music. Its power derives from its emotional and often lyrical content. Musicians frequently talk of three-chord rock, and that is often not far from the truth. But ever since the Beatles started exploring different avenues, in the company of their classically-trained producer George Martin, rock musicians have sought to expand the musical sophistication of rock. That led to sub-genres like art rock, with its symphonic tendencies, and numerous groups who have tried to combine the qualities of jazz with rock, going back to the early jazz-rockers like Blood Sweat and Tears who added horns to the rock mix, and the fusion players like Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra, who tended to be more instrumentally oriented.
Over the years, Steely Dan has stood as the gold standard for combining the musical sophistication of jazz, with the lyrical outlook -- and attitude -- of rock.
This week, we have another of the relatively rare groups these days who represent that combination of influences -- music full of the harmonic and rhythmic content that would impress jazz fans, with the smart, intriguing lyrics that will attract rock and singer-songwriter fans. Goodbye Girl Friday is the name of the group, and their debut CD under that name is called Mr. and Mrs.
Goodbye Girl Friday traces its origins back to 1994 when keyboard man, lead vocalist and composer Dave Sherman and bassist Dan Grennes started to collaborate in their final year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, known for turning out a wealth of fine, jazz-influenced players. The duo moved to Nashville to try to make it in the music business there. Sherman and Grennes by then had begun to call their collaboration Edison With the Weather, after two songs that they played. They attracted a number of additional players, with their jazzy, harmonically sophisticated music. They decided to relocate to New York, to take in the music scene there, and recruited two additional players, including Australian guitar whiz Ben Butler, to round out the quartet, which released Off the Cuff, and made an appearance on our Homegrown Music series. Following the making of Off the Cuff, they recruited Andy Sanesi for drums, another old friend from their Berklee days, who brought a further jazz sensibility to the group. After Butler left, Edison With the Weather performed with another guitarist for a while, then decided to re-configure as a trio, came up with another equally unlikely name, Goodbye Girl Friday, in 2001, and began working on a CD. The result is Mr. and Mrs., a rather brief but impressive recording that, in the absence of any guitar, further enhances the jazzy quality of Dave Sherman's music. The songs are clever lyrically, and almost playful in their use of intricate chord changes, shifting meter, and interesting melodies. The group is one who can manage to make sophisticated music that's also appealing those who just want to listen to the lyrics and groove to the beat.
Sherman uses electric keyboards throughout, and almost all of the sounds he uses have a distinctly retro quality -- 1960s electric piano, 1970s whooping synthesizers, and some 1950s organ. The lyrics also, seem with a couple of exceptions, separated from the present time and place.
Leading off is Summer-Dusted Mind, which epitomizes the Goodbye Girl Friday sound -- a laid-back beat, and easy-going lyrics with the kind of harmonic resourcefulness that would keep a jazz musician happy. <<>>
The following track, Big Red Bong, is a bit more edgy with lyrics that evoke more contemporary images. <<>>
The title track Mr. and Mrs. also evokes the current state of the world full of crazy people making it an unsafe place. <<>>
For me one of the highlights is Peace Out, a song seemingly urging a high-strung woman to lighten up. Sherman and company live up to their jazzy influence with the rather intricate arrangement with shifting rhythms. <<>>
Also full of the band's smart writing, both musically and lyrically, is The Drama You Create. The old fashioned synthesizers that sound like a cat's meow, add fun retro touch, as the music goes back and forth between rock and a Latin beat. <<>>
One of the more laid-back tracks is Once, which reveals a lot of interesting layers on close listen. <<>>
Probably the closest thing to a musically abstruse track from this sophisticated band is Mr. Rainy Days, with all its shifting meter, complicated chord changes and the like. It's great from a theoretical standpoint, and also has some general appeal with its inventive lyrics. <<>>
Mr. and Mrs., the new independent release from the New York-based trio Goodbye Girl Friday, comprising three-fourths of the former Edison with the Weather, is a very satisfying recording that combines excellent writing, both in words and music, and very tasteful playing by all. The guitar-less sound of the group, along with Dave Sherman's preference for the 1960s-style Rhodes electric piano sound, gives the group a distinctly jazzy edge, hinting at the qualities of Steely Dan, while the understated arrangements, which sound as if they could have been recorded live in the studio, give the music a sense of appealing honesty, providing sophistication without slickness.
Sonically, the CD is generally well-done, though as usual for the current day of CD loudness wars, there is a little too much compression making the recording sound louder than it needs to be. And the distorted vocal quality on the title track detracts rather than adds.
Goodbye Girl Friday creates the kind of high quality jazzy rock that is not heard too often these days from contemporary bands, and it's definitely a welcome sound.
(c) Copyright 2002 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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